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Utamaro

Category: Artist and sculptor

From Wikipedia slightly shortened

Utamaro by Mizoguchi

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 –1806) was a Japanese printmaker and painter, who is considered one of the greatest artists of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). He is known especially for his masterfully composed studies of women, known as bijinga

He was born in 1753. A long-standing tradition asserts that he was born in Yoshiwara, the courtesan district of Edo, being the son of a tea-house owner, but there is no evidence of this.

Despite Kitagawa Utamaro’s success and celebrity status among his own world of popular culture, history of his life and career is vague. There are no contemporary documents to help them certify his date of birth, birthplace, and family.

Utamaro married, although little is known about his wife and there is no record of their having had children.  Generally, it is agreed that while he was still a child, he became a pupil of the painter Toriyama Sekien. He lived in Sekien's house while he was growing up and the relationship between the two artists continued until Sekien's death in 1788.

At some point in the mid-1780s, probably 1783, he went to live with the young and rising publisher, Tsutaya Juzaburo. It is estimated that he lived there for approximately five years. He seems to have become a principal artist for the Tsutaya firm.

In about 1791 Utamaro gave up designing prints for books and concentrated on making single portraits of women displayed in half-length, rather than the prints of women in groups favoured by other ukiyo-e artists. In 1793 he achieved recognition as an artist, and his semi-exclusive arrangement with the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo was terminated. He then went on to produce several very famous series of works, all featuring women of the Yoshiwara district.

Over the years, he also occupied himself with a number of volumes of animal, insect, and nature studies and shunga, or erotica.

In 1797, Tsutaya Juzaburo died and apparently, Utamaro was very upset by the loss of his long-time friend and supporter. Some commentators feel that after this event, his work never reached the heights it had previously.

In 1804, at the height of his success, he ran into legal trouble by publishing prints related to a banned historical novel. The prints, entitled Hideyoshi and his Five Concubines, depicted the wife and concubines of the military ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who lived from 1536 to 1598. Consequently, Utamaro was accused of insulting the real Hideyoshi's dignity. He was sentenced to be handcuffed for fifty days (some accounts say he briefly was imprisoned). According to some sources, the experience crushed him emotionally and ended his career as an artist.

He died two years later, on the twentieth day of the ninth month of 1806  aged about fifty-three, in Edo.

Utamaro produced over two thousand prints during his working career, along with a number of paintings, surimono, as well as many illustrated books, including over thirty shunga books, albums, and related publications.

He alone, of his contemporary ukiyo-e artists, achieved a national reputation during his lifetime. His sensuous female beauties generally are considered the finest and most evocative bijinga in all of ukiyo-e. He succeeded in capturing subtle aspects of personality and transient moods of women of all classes, ages, and circumstances. His reputation has remained undiminished since; his work is known worldwide, and he is generally regarded as one of the half-dozen greatest ukiyo-e artists of all time.

References

A partial list of his print series and their dates includes

Chosen Poems (1791–1792)
Ten Types of Women's Physiognomies (1792–1793)
Famous Beauties of Edo (1792–1793)
Ten Learned Studies of Women (1792–1793)
Anthology of Poems: The Love Section (1793–1794)  - (sometimes called Women in Love containing individual prints such as Revealed Love and Pensive Love)
Snow, Moon, and Flowers of the Tea Houses (1793–1795)
Array of Supreme Beauties of the Present Day (1794)
Twelve Hours in  the Tea Houses (1794–1795)
Flourishing Beauties of the Present Day (1795–1797)
An Array of Passionate Lovers (1797–1798)
Ten Forms of Feminine Physiognomy (1802)

Observations

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